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Jefferson Awards: Brightening The Lives Of Disabled Seniors

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) - What's the secret to long life? A South San Francisco woman who's nearly a century old says volunteering keeps her young. It's a philosophy that has earned her this week's Jefferson Award.

98-year-old Phyllis Cecchettini is always on the go. "Oh, that's my life, volunteering," she said with a smile.

Every Monday and Wednesday morning for nearly 60 years, she's volunteered at the Janet Pomeroy Recreation and Rehabilitation Center in San Francisco. It serves hundreds of developmentally disabled people each week.

"When you see people smiling and you're making them happy, naturally, it just makes you happy and all the little endorphins start running around and making you healthier!" Cecchettini explained.

Cecchettini started volunteering at the center in 1954 along with her son and daughter in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. When they outgrew scouting, she continued to go.

"I loved it, and I loved the people, and I loved helping," she said simply.

From dominoes to exercise, she assists about two dozen disabled senior citizens a day in the recreation program.

Participant Sandra Fernandez says Cecchettini has made her feel special for 47 years. "She talks to everybody in our group," Fernandez said. "She's very nice."

Frank Grassi says Cecchettini brightens the whole room. "She makes the place lively. She makes everybody happy," he reported.

And she steps in with creative ideas. When the center needed a greenhouse in 1999, she paid for a quarter of the building costs with prize money she won in a national cooking contest.

Her volunteerism inspires Recreation Services Director Cindy Blackstone.

"She's busy and active all the time," Blackstone said. "She lives life to its fullest."

"I just love doing it!" Cecchettini added.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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